A week until Christmas… how did this happen? I know the day is coming close when I find myself nibbling leftover cheese and fruitcake for breakfast and sipping mulled wine that has reduced on the stovetop to the point of being intensely fruity and spicy – this year it reminded me of the red wine milkshakes my friend Dana used to make some 10 years ago.
I’ve picked up the essentials – a dark fruitcake my mom baked, a box of Quality Street chocolates, enough butter to not run out, the Robertson’s Thick Cut Marmalade my grandma used to say was essential for the success of her Marmalade Cookies (“it gives them that extra zip!” is handwritten on her recipe card). I picked it up at London Drugs, of all places – at Christmas I find it a great source of British specialties like HobNobs, Cadbury Fingers and obscure “gourmet” ingredients like truffle oil and Rose Lime Cordial, which is perfect for adding to sparkling water or cocktails – I like to put a bottle out at the makeshift bar beside our sink, alongside grenadine to make the kids’ Shirley Temples. (It also, by the way, makes fab lime milkshakes.)
Do you remember that episode of Family Ties (I believe it was A Keaton Christmas Carol, 1983 – totally dating myself, I know) where Alex finds himself lacking the Christmas spirit, and in the end goes last-minute shopping on Christmas eve at 7-11 or some such? I always feel a little Alex P. Keaton when shopping for Christmas gifts at a drugstore, but London Drugs is a great source of kitchen gadgets at lower prices than you’d find in most cookware shops. I’ve run there many times before a show in need of a skillet or hot plate or some such… and that’s where I picked up my pizzelle iron that we use every year to make Belgian stroopwafels. London Drugs heard me talking about it (apparently there are a lot of people looking for British eats at this time of year) and asked me to take a look at what they have and come up with a Christmas list for people who like to cook and eat – it turned into my for-real Christmas week shopping list:
For a few of my favourite cooking people, I’m buying a pressure cooker. (The 5.5 L Fresco Pressure Cooker is $29.99.) These are not your grandma’s pressure cookers – the new generation of pressure cookers are safe, explosion-free and will cook your food in about a third the time of the oven or stovetop. The pressure cooker is the new slow cooker… for real. And the best part – no one seems to have one yet! Hello foodie gift opportunity.
For my mom, who goes through crazy amounts of soda water, the Soda Stream Jet Soda Maker ($89.99) – everyone I know who has one seems to love it. I think of it not as a means of making your own pop, but soda water (think of the flavour potential) to drink straight-up, for cocktails or homemade fizzy juices when you want to ditch pop. W is starting to ask for pop – this may delay the inevitable for awhile.
For my sis, who brings lunch to work every day (Ali, stop reading now) the Crock Pot Lunch Cooker ($16.99) – you can leave the warming base at work and take the removable food container home to fill with soup or leftovers. Brilliant, no?
For Mike, a Krups Deluxe Burr Grinder ($69.99), because we got a beautiful manual espresso machine last year, and every barista I’ve talked to insists that a burr grinder is essential – it uses steel burrs to grind coffee without heating the beans with friction or shattering them like traditional coffee grinders can. For his Mom, a Hamilton Beach single-cup coffee maker ($49.99) that doesn’t use pods (can’t stand all that excess packaging!) – she can scoop in her own favourite ground coffee and make just one cup.
For myself – a Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Blender ($49.99) – because mine finally kicked the bucket, and it’s one of my most-used kitchen tools. It allows you to puree soups right in the pot, but also makes easy, flawless mayonnaise, milkshakes and smoothies. Love it.
Also worth noting: they carry the KitchenAid BeaterBlade for stand mixers – honestly, this saved my KitchenAid stand mixer. For years it stood on my counter unused because the whip and paddle attachments didn’t go all the way to the bottom of the bowl, and left a half inch of unmixed batter on the bottom. A year or so I had to order mine online, but I noticed they have them at London Drugs – the bottom of the bowl is scraped with each turn of the blade. I use mine for almost everything I use my stand mixer for.
And guess what – London Drugs has contributed a Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Blender for me to give away, so that you can make mulled wine milkshakes, too. To enter, you know the drill – leave a comment here – maybe let us know what’s on your holiday baking list this year? These milkshakes came about as means of using up the last of the mulled wine after a weekend party – I cooked it down, cooled it, and blended it with vanilla ice cream for a pale purple, citrusy winter sipper.
(I believe ice cream is a year-round food.) If you want to start from scratch, here’s how:
Mulled Wine Milkshakes
with thanks to Dana McCauley, and her Summer 2001 newsletter
2 cups red wine
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
a few whole cloves
a few allspice berries (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
vanilla ice cream
Combine the red wine, sugar, orange juice, cloves, allspice and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-high heat for 30-45 minutes, or until reduced by a half or so. Pour the mixture through a sieve to strain out the spices and cool completely, then refrigerate until cold.
Blend ice cream and reduced mulled wine to taste in a blender until it’s the consistency you like – I’d go for about 2 parts ice cream to 1 part wine reduction. Serve in frosty glasses.
Thanks to London Drugs, a company that started in Vancouver in 1945 – Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra era – for helping make this post happen. Of course all Christmas shopping and gift picking was done by me! And I could have shopped more… there was also a panini press, and a heavy-duty flip-over waffle iron, and a few other gadgety things I don’t have yet…
NOTE: our contest has wrapped up – congratulations to Evelyn, and happy holidays to all!